PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping thanked Cambodia on Monday for deporting 20 Muslim asylum-seekers while handing the country $1.2 billion in aid , the government spokesman said.
The 20 ethnic Uighurs deported Saturday were sought by China in connection with violent anti-government protests. Human rights activists are concerned that they will face persecution in China.
The United States said Sunday it was "deeply disturbed" by the forcible deportations. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the incident would affect Cambodia's relationship with the United States and its international standing.
"China thanked the government of Cambodia for assistance in sending back those people (Uighurs) to China because under Chinese law these people are criminals. This represents cooperation by the two sides," Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said after a meeting Monday between the Chinese leader and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
He said that the 14 agreements totalled $1.2 billion in grants and loans, ranging from Chinese help in building roads to repairing Buddhist temples. Earlier, China had provided Cambodia with $930 million in loans and other aid.
China is key ally and donor to impoverished Cambodia.
Cambodia said it was expelling the Uighurs because they had illegally entered the country.
Xi's trip to Cambodia is seen as significant because he is widely considered the leading contender to eventually succeed President Hu Jintao. It is his last stop on a four-nation Asian tour that also included Japan, South Korea and Myanmar.
While economic powerhouses Japan and South Korea are rivals to China, Myanmar and Cambodia are two of Southeast Asia's poorest countries, where China uses its wealth to spread its influence.
Beijing is the closest and most powerful ally of military-ruled Myanmar, and has major investments in the country, which is shunned by the West because of its failure to restore democratic rule.
Cambodia is nominally more democratic than Myanmar, but Hun Sen is an autocratic ruler who uses his ties with China as a balance against dependency on Western nations.